Last fall, voters made it clear they want a new spirit of thrift in government. Now, it’s follow-through time.
But in Olympia, change is not coming easily. The Legislature seems stalled. That’s partly the conservatives’ own fault. Some, naively, refuse to compromise. They threaten to shut state government down this summer if the next budget’s any bigger than $17.3 billion. Crucial as it is to limit spending, that arbitrary figure is even below the tight spending lid voters set in Initiative 601.
Veteran conservatives like Sen. Dan McDonald, who has fought Olympia’s excesses for years, know that the total isn’t the key. It’s how well the money is spent.
Rather than dividing and paralyzing themselves and threatening the state’s essential services, the conservatives need a formula for compromise that can win majority support. Here are our priorities:
Improve the business climate. Roll back recent increases in the economically repressive business & occupation tax. And, a tax break for new industrial equipment would create an incentive for expansion. More and more firms have wondered whether they could afford to stay in Washington.
Force targeted cuts in the state’s Olympia-area bureaucracy, which has grown far more rapidly than population. To help the delayering, lawmakers should consider Sen. Gene Prince’s bill requiring each agency to prepare an organizational chart. The agencies’ claim that such charts are too burdensome to prepare is as absurd as it is revealing. Veteran conservatives like McDonald and Prince say the GOP’s budget could cut more deeply into bureaucratic overhead.
Require state workers to contribute $32 a month, just as average private sector employees do, to the cost of health insurance. This is a fairness issue, it’s a way to deter overuse of health insurance and it saves big bucks.
Open the door to privatization of state services. Other states save money this way and it’s time Washington gave it a try, too.
Cut operating costs in the prison system, slashing perks like television and recreation staff.
Shift more of the budget to education, the most effective social program. It was a step backwards for House Republicans to propose both higher tuition and reduced state support for our undersized universities. It was crazy for the GOP to propose laying off K-12 teachers as a penalty for student absenteeism.
The general public won’t support attacks on education. Conservatives should cut in ways that retain voter enthusiasm for their overdue efforts.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board
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